09 Jun 2012
L’olimpiade, Venice Baroque Orchestra
Over 60 composers (including Beethoven) wrote music inspired by Metastasio’s L’olimpiade.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
Over 60 composers (including Beethoven) wrote music inspired by Metastasio’s L’olimpiade.
The Venice Baroque Orchestra brought to London their pasticcio, selecting 16 settings, organized around the original play.
Metastasio’s libretto, L’Olympiade was a popular choice for composers in the 18th century with settings by composers such as Caldara, Hasse, Vivaldi, Galuppi, Cimarosa, Paisiello and Cherubini. Donizetti even started a setting of it. The plot is the usual mix of co-incidences, mistaken identities and love thwarted. In fact the plot summary could be read as much as “Carry on up the Olympics” as an opera seria.
Whilst Vivaldi’s setting has received recent revivals, the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Andrea Marcon decided to explore the full gamut of settings of the libretto. At their concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 28 May they present a pasticcio made up of music from 16 composers. Pasticcios were common in the 18th century, with music taken from a variety of composers. The Venice Baroque Orchestra chose to present Metastasio’s libretto as he first produced it, ignoring the many changes that subsequent composers made. It was common to replace aria text and even to trim the recitative, so that for instance Vivaldi’s version of the opera makes significant changes to the aria texts.
The Venice Baroque Orchestra presented all of Metastasio’s arias but omitted all of the recitative. In the 18th century, a pasticcio would have recitative by a particular composer to bind the arias together. At the Queen Elizabeth Hall we had just the arias, linked by written plot summary.
We opened with Leonardo Leo’s sinfonia for his setting premiered in Naples in 1737, a short, no nonsense piece which displayed the orchestra’s wonderfully crisp, up-front playing. From then on we skittered through the next 50 years. Without the recitative it was difficult for the soloists to give a coherent sense of character given the variety of settings. For example Romina Basso as Megacle sang arias by Hasse (1756), Gassmann (1764), Cherubini (1783) and Jommelli (1761). It was difficult to grasp the feel of the complete operas, particularly as the styles of the settings varied from Caldara’s baroque setting, through galant and classical all the way to Cherubini.
This is where the logic behind the performance also fell down. In the 18th century a pasticcio would have had recitative and arias selected from a small group of contemporary composers, probably linked by style. Here we had no recitative and composers of a bewildering variety of styles. So it was as a concert, rather than an opera, that we have to think of this.
Basso as Megacle (one of the two male characters played by female singers), had a fine mezzo-soprano voice. Her opening aria, by Hasse, provided her with some suitably brilliant music which she executed quite superbly. However Basso had a rather odd performance style, rarely looking at the audience and waving her arms in the air in a strange manner. The result rather led to a strong lack of audience engagement, but her brilliant technical performance compensated to a certain extent.
The other male character, Licida, was played by mezzo soprano Delphine Galou. She opened with an aria by Galuppi from 1748, rather more early classical in style. Galou had a stylish delivery and an attractively dark, veiled voice. She went on to sing an aria by Vivaldi and a further one by Galuppi.
The two heroines were sopranos Ruth Rosique and Luanda Siqueira as Aristea and Argene. Rosique opened with an aria from 1786 by Paisiello in a lovely, expressive performance, following this with music by Gassman, Caldara (the libretto’s original setting), Leo and Piccini. Siqueira started with an aria by Sarti from 1778 in galant style, then covering music by Perez (written for Lisbon in 1753), Traetta and Pergolesi.
Tenor Jeremy Ovenden as Clistene had a series of high tenor arias, from Josef Myslivecek (a friend of Mozart’s), Jommelli and Cimarosa. Ovenden had a fine technique, a nice vibrant tenor with a free and easy top, he displayed little effort when it came to the tessitura of the arias.
Counter tenor Nicholas Spanos had a smaller role and displayed a rather careful technique in arias by Hasse.
One of the interesting things about the concert was the contrast between the various styles of the arias. We had galant music by Sarti, baroque music by Caldara and Vivaldi, late baroque style music by Traetta, music of an early classical feel by Jomelli, classical elegance from Piccini and of course a fully developed dramatic scene from Cherubini. Missing from the list, unfortunately, were Sacchini and Donizetti; it would certainly have been interesting to see what Donizetti made of it.
Hasse came out top with five items in the concert, showing how he was brilliant at writing elaborate arias which displayed voices at their best. The most intriguing was perhaps Traetta whose Act 2 arias for Siqueiria left me wondering what the remainder of his opera would be like. Another fascinating point was the way that composers from the classical period continued to write Da Capo arias.
In the programme book, Reinhard Strohm talked about the perfection of Metastasio’s work. A perfection that modern listeners often find it difficult to detect judging by the reviews of recent performances of Vivaldi’s L’Olympiade where reviewers have had difficulty taking the plot seriously. This is one of the problems with this genre, we have not yet learned to listen to settings of Metastasio’s texts. Contemporary ears have trouble finding balance and perfection and see only contrived co-incidences. Hasse in particular was strongly associated with Hasse, and most of the composers included in the evening would have regarded his libretto as a serious object worthy of setting.
The performances from the Venice Baroque Orchestra under Marcon were simply stunning. The orchestra had a fine technique, with a bravura feel to it which just asked to be listened to.
As drama, the performance was lacking. The programme probably works better as a CD than as a concert performance of an opera. But Marcon and his cast gave us a string of extremely fine performance which just made one sit up and listen.